Debate Among Student Government Association Candidates
by Rachel Gallagher
Candidates for Student Government Association president and vice president debated Monday night about issues facing the future of the Catholic University of America. The topics included diversity, representation, and the inclusion of all students on campus.
Close to one hundred students gathered in the Edward J. Pryzbyla Center Food Court to watch the debate hosted by CUA Debate Club, WCUA, and The Tower. The debate first hosted vice presidential candidates Harrington, Knight, and Weiss; followed by presidential candidates Aaron Mackisey, Andrew Elder, and Brianna Howard. The debate was held in preparation for the election, which will take place on Wednesday, April 5th from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Students will be able to vote both on the Nest or in person on the 3rd floor of the Edward J. Pryzbyla Center.
Sophomore civil engineering major Owen Salyers found the evening informative, and said, “While they all do have platforms posted on their Facebook pages or websites, they are very broad ideas. This debate gave [the candidates] a chance to go into the specifics of their different plans.”
“Everyone did reasonably well, I don’t think there was a particular standout and that is probably because they are all so different,” said current Student Government Association President, Kristina Pinault.
The presidential portion of the night’s debate commenced with an open-ended question: what is the most important issue facing the Catholic University of America? For Mackisey, it is diversity. His campaign focuses on a Center for Diversity and Inclusion to create “honest conversations” surrounding not only cultural diversity but also sexual and gender diversity. Howard’s answer was student representation on campus. She emphasized the need for the Student Government Association to reach out to “niche groups” on campus who do not feel they are represented at Catholic University. Rounding out the group, Elder emphasized community, “growing together,” and the necessity of respect for this growth.
A recurring topic on the Catholic University campus is the status of CUAllies, the unofficial LGBTQ+ student organization. While both Mackisey and Elder emphasized their past and ongoing support for the group’s official recognition by the university administration, — Mackisey, his running mate Harrington, and Elder all voted in favor of formal recognition of CUAllies in the Student Government Association Senate — Howard stated that she did not believe it was their place to support the creation of an official organization on campus. She elaborated, saying that CUAllies “has a good thing going on” and that her ticket stands with students to find a solution that fits the needs of both the administration and the students.
Questions as to the candidates’ actual engagement with minority student groups were brought forward, as well as how Mackisey’s “Center for Diversity and Inclusion” would differ from the preexistent Center for Cultural Engagement. Mackisey said that it would not replace the Center for Cultural Engagement, but merely build off of it to encompass sexuality and gender. Elder made a point of saying that he is the only candidate who is active in the Center for Cultural Engagement and has worked with BSA, SOL, and FOCUS. Howard emphasized her experience with intercultural assistance working in the Office of Campus Activities.
The vice presidential debate was unique in that two of the three candidates—Basira Knight and Jon Paul Weiss—have never been a part of Student Government at the Catholic University of America. The two candidates presented this in a positive light, both emphasizing a “fresh perspective.”
“I thought it was interesting that, in the vice-presidential debate, Jon and Basira were critical of SGA this year considering …they have each come to maybe one Senate meeting,” said Pinault.
When asked about their impressions of the debate, each candidate thought the evening went well, overall.
“[The debate] was really informative and as you can see we had a lot of students come and that’s something important to us,” said Andrew Elder. “People car[ing] about the future of SGA and about who will lead it. That’s exciting.”
Aaron Mackisey believed the debate was “really able to show that Jimmy and I are a campaign not just throwing out buzzwords but that we have big ideas and we have the plan on how to get them done.”
However, Brianna Howard is focusing on the final stretch prior to the election.
“A lot of things were talked about but I think there are still issues that we need to talk about and that’s my goal throughout the rest of the campaign,” said Howard.
Voting will take place on April 5, 2017 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., on The Nest.